WASHINGTON – The Obama administration is taking heat from a group that's usually a reliable ally: the pro-choice community. In federal court Tuesday, a judge heard arguments about whether the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should be held in contempt for failing to approve wider access to the morning after pill.
It's a fight that pro-choice advocates launched during the Bush administration, and say was necessary to continue because the current administration hasn't granted their request. "We are going to continue to hold our government accountable for having science rule for when it comes to reproductive rights -- not politics," said Nancy Northup, President of the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR).
Northup, whose organization has led the legal fight with the FDA for several years, says she is also disheartened by other recent moves by the Obama administration. Just last week, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius decided to ignore an FDA recommendation to make the Plan B "morning after pill" accessible to women of all ages without a prescription. Citing a lack of relevant research, Sebelius refused to grant over-the-counter access to young women under the age of 17.
On Tuesday, a group of 14 senators led by Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., sent a letter to Sebelius expressing "disappointment" and demanding an explanation. "We ask that you share with us your specific rationale and the scientific data you relied on for the decision."
President Obama says he did not take part in the decision, but he does support Sebelius. "I think it is important for us to make sure that we apply some common sense to various rules when it comes to over-the-counter medicine," the president said last week. Referring to his own young daughters, Obama expressed concern that children as young as 10 years old could buy a medication with potentially adverse side effects without first obtaining a prescription. "I think most parents would probably feel the same way."
Pro-life groups say they were pleasantly surprised by Sebelius' decision.
"I think it's kind of fascinating because we're so used to seeing the abortion lobby win on things like this," says Charmaine Yoest, President and CEO of Americans United for Life (AUL).
But pro-life advocates aren't exactly celebrating. They fear the pro-choice community will continue to file lawsuits and publicly pressure the administration until it grants unlimited access to the morning after pill.
"We hope the administration will hold strong against that," Yoest said. Sebelius has indicated that the issue may be revisited.